In Search Of…Rigelsky Adoption

Watch the amazing circumstances around an Onalaska couple's adoption

Local photographer Sami Rigelsky and her husband Joe, a youth pastor at First Free Church in Onalaska admit their fairytale marriage didn’t exactly have a fairytale start.

“I was 20, she was 19. She was a shot girl at Coconut Joe’s and I was an underage patron. And I was a real real rough kid,”  Joe said.  “I was just really drawn to her. She was just illuminating.”

They exchanged numbers and Joe didn’t waste any time.

“I was living with my parents at the time,” Sami said.  “When I got up the next day, my dad said, ‘Someone named Joe’s called you like 6 times!'”

Joe was hooked immediately.  “I think it was the third date and she walked past me and I blubbered out, ‘I love you.’ I’m like, I’m the biggest weenie in the world.  But it literally came out of me with a deeper meaning. Like I want to be a better man and when I say this word I’m going to live up to it. But here’s how ghetto I was. I said, ‘Let’s go get tattoos!’ So I got her name tattooed the third day knowing her on my neck and she got mine on her back. Third day!”

Six months later they got engaged, six months after that they said, ‘I do.’

“Our wedding was amazing. It was in her parents living room in La Crescent.”

“We wore what we were wearing the day that we met. He was wearing his Nautica outfit and I was wearing my Sneakers/Coconut Joe’s t-shirt and jeans,” Sami added.

Children were always in the cards for Joe and Sami. “When I was getting into the Bible, I stumbled across the passage that said, Tthe greatest blessing we can receive this side of heaven is children.'”

Now we have a few! Aiyana is going to be 14 next month. Kalista is 13, Dorian is 10, Roman is 8, Sailor is 6, and Oxton just turned 4. And though not technically adopted, they’ve grown to love and support DeuVenson, a boy from Haiti they met years ago on a mission trip.

“We count him as one of ours, too and he will be 13 next month.”

Life with this many people under one roof can have its ups and downs, but for Sami there was still room to grow. 

“Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted a child with Down Syndrome.”

Two years ago, Sami started looking at the profiles of special needs orphans online. “I would send him a picture and say, “Look at this one. Isn’t this one cute? Are you ready yet?’ And he was like, ‘No…no.'”

Until one day out of the blue, Joe pulled up his Facebook page to see this face staring back at him. “I clicked on it and I started reading about this little girl who was abandoned in China. She had special needs and she really just broke my heart.  “Knowing that the second I talked to Sami about it – basically we’re in the adoption mode!”

He was right.  Immediately Sami messaged the agency the little girl was listed with to get the process started. “And they kept sending me profiles of other kids. And I was like, ‘Yeah two. Why not? We’re already going to China…come on!”

Joe wasn’t exactly on board. “I was like, ‘What is wrong with you woman?! What void are you trying to fill?'”

“So I ended up emailing the agency and said, don’t send me anymore profiles. I’m getting in trouble over here. And they sent me this email and said ‘Just this last one. This one’s your son.’ And he still said no! But I knew. I was like, this is the boy I have been waiting for. And he said, ‘I just don’t think so.'”

Five months passed and they were well into the paperwork for the little girl, when the little boy’s profile popped up again. So Joe decided to pray on it. “I went over to my office and threw up all my stuff to God and within minutes I saw us placing two children into the vehicle. And I was like, oh no, we’re going to get two.”

This past July, Joe and Sami flew to China. Their first stop, pick up the little girl they named Worthy. “She’s worthy to have a family, she’s worthy to know love. She is Worthy.”

“The nanny handed her to me and I just lost it. And she just snuggled right in.”

One week later, they flew to another part of China to meet their son Gospel. “In he comes his arms swinging, and Sami’s like, “That’s him!” And I’m like, ‘No.’ And then I could see it was him. I had some little hot wheels and I dropped to my knees and he just bear hugs me. And worthy is patting him and it was so sweet.”

They arrived at the La Crosse airport to a crown of people waiting to greet them, with the six “home grown” right out in front. “The airport was the moment was real when youre on your home soil, your entire family is there, you’re loading them in the van. And we get to go home. That’s when it felt like something was ending and something was beginning.” “And then you are like, ‘Oh. My. Crackers. We have eight kids in our house!”

They aren’t shy about sharing that there are challenges with adoption and with raising two children with Down Syndrome. “But it’s like everything else and the scales are just so tipped the other way because you look at Gospel and Worthy and you forget what their life was like for the last five years. And you realize what that little sacrifice amounts to in their world. And the joy that that brings our whole home is absolutely priceless in comparison.”

“They’re so full of joy and spunk and zest and you are just like, man alive had we said, ‘No,’ what would they be doing? It’s sometimes hard. But they are here. And it was worth all the hard and when they look at you and, yesterday he said, ‘I love you’ for the first time. It just can’t get better than that. It just can’t. Go spend five minutes with someone who has adopted and see for yourself how amazing it can be. We are mom and dad. That’s what they know. It’s just amazing. And really, really beautiful.”